Laws governing local ballot measures in Pennsylvania

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Laws Governing Local Ballot Measures

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This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Pennsylvania. It explains:
  • Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
  • How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.

Types of local government

Local government in Pennsylvania consists of:

  • Counties: There are 67 counties. 7 operate under home rule charters. They are Allegheny, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, and Northampton.
  • Cities: There are 56 cities. 19 operate under home rule charters.
  • Boroughs: There are 958 boroughs. 19 operate under home rule charters.
  • Incorporated town: There is one incorporated town, Bloomsburg. It does not have a charter.
  • Township: There are 1547 townships. 27 operate under home rule charters..[1]
  • In addition, there are 1,764 special districts and 514 independent school districts.[2]

School districts

See also: School bond and tax elections in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania requires a bond election in order to exceed the property tax ceiling or issue new bonding. There are two major laws governing school finance in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Special Session Act of 2006 covers the property tax ceiling. School districts are required to have a referendum if borrowing exceeds a certain index. Set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, this index is updated every year. However, there are causes, including court orders and emergencies, that exempt districts from the law. Also, the cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Scranton are exempt from the 2006 law.

The Pennsylvania Local Government Unit Debt Act of 1996 covers all bond issues in the State of Pennsylvania. Both laws differ on the required notice for a election and the mandatory period between the approval of a resolution by a school district and the election. Under the 1996 act, there is a mandatory cooling-off period of 155 days for re-issuing a bond question. The Special Session Act of 2006, however, does not mandate a cooling-off period before re-issuing ballot questions on the property tax ceiling.

Initiative process availability

Counties

All of Pennsylvania's seven charter counties have charter amendment by initiative.[3]

Cities

Charter amendment by initiative is available in each of Pennsylvania's 65 charter cities. In addition, the state's 37 third class cities enjoy a limited initiative process.[3]

Initiative process features

A guide to local ballot initiatives
Local Ballot Initiatives cover.jpg

Charter Cities and Counties



Third-Class Cities


Authority

Ballot Law Portal
Laws Governing Ballot Measures

Constitution

The Pennsylvania Constitution does not address the local initiative process.

Statutes

The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes provide for initiated charter amendments in the state's charter cities. In addition, the Third Class City Code provides for a highly limited initiative process in third class cities.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 53, Chapter 29, Subchapter C & Third Class City Code, Article X, (b)

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Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns

Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities

List of Most Populated Cities in Pennsylvania
City[5] Population City Type Next election
Philadelphia 1,536,471 Home rule charter November 4, 2014
Pittsburgh 307,484 Home rule charter N/A
Allentown 119,141 Home rule charter N/A
Erie 101,807 General law under Optional 3rd Class City Charter Law N/A
Reading 88,414 Home rule charter N/A
Scranton 75,995 Home rule charter N/A
Bethlehem 75,266 General law under Optional 3rd Class City Charter Law N/A
Lancaster 60,058 General law under Optional 3rd Class City Charter Law N/A
Harrisburg 49,673 General law under Optional 3rd Class City Charter Law N/A
Altoona 46,329 General law under Optional Plan N/A

Of the top ten most populated cities in Pennsylvania, only two, Allentown and Scranton, have individual provisions for ordinance initiative beyond what is established in state law above.


See also

External links

References